Hockey Series Preview: Wisconsin vs Michigan Tech

Wisconsin hosts Michigan Tech this weekend at the Kohl Center for a two-game WCHA series.

Wake up, things might get rough
No need to stress
Keeps you down to much
Wake up, I heard they found a solution
Where will you be for the revolution?

KiD CuDi--REVOFEV

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

The Wisconsin men's hockey team had a huge bounce-back weekend on the road last week at Denver. The Badgers' played two close, hard-fought games against the WCHA leading Pioneers.

Wisconsin held a 1-0 lead late Friday night, but a last minute, extra attacker goal by Denver defenseman Joey LaLeggia forced overtime. The two teams would end in a tie in the series opener. In the finale on Saturday, Wisconsin built a 2-0 lead and held on for a huge 3-1 victory over fifth ranked Denver.

The three points were huge for a Wisconsin club that saw its winless streak reach eight games before Saturday night's victory.

UW head coach Mike Eaves talked after the Minnesota State series two weeks ago how about he felt that Wisconsin's ship was turning around. He piggybacked off that after a big three point weekend at Denver.

"Maybe that ship is starting to come around, and we've got some wind at our back now," Eaves said. "So that's the most important thing is to keep that wind at our backs."

Wisconsin will get an opportunity to keep that wind at their backs as they host Michigan Tech this weekend at the Kohl Center for a pair of WCHA contests.

With the exception of a road sweep at Bemidji State three weeks ago, the Huskies have been in a slump. Tech raised eyebrows with a 5-3 win over Minnesota Oct. 19th, but proceeded to lose their next five and are just 2-7-1 since their big upset win over the Gophers.

BADGER OFFENSE

The big news this week for the Wisconsin offense is the return of top-line center Mark Zengerle to the lineup. The Rochester, N.Y. native has missed the past six-and-a-half games with a badly broken finger that he suffered in the Saturday night loss to Colorado College November 8th.

Zengerle is required to get clearance from the doctor today (Friday), but that wasn't expected to be an issue. When I briefly spoke to the junior center on Thursday, Zengerle told me he was "Good to go" this weekend.

Obviously Wisconsin can use all the offense they can get. Despite a win and a tie last weekend, it was still readily apparent that this team is offensively challenged. UW scored just four goals on the weekend, with two of them being deflections and one of them an empty netter.

Zengerle's return to the club should pay immediate returns. Obviously playing without your top-line center creates a large void in the lineup.

Last weekend saw the return of Nic Kerdiles to the lineup. He'll be paired on a line this weekend with Zengerle and right winger Tyler Barnes who is over-due in the goal scoring department.

Other lines this week will feature Derek Lee between wingers Joseph LaBate and Michael Mersch, Jefferson Dahl with the Little brothers, and Brendan Woods with Matt Paape and Keegan Meuer.

BADGER DEFENSE & GOALTENDERS

I'm doing the best I can to not get up and give these guys a standing ovation for their performance last weekend. Wisconsin's d-core played their systems to near perfection against Denver, and if there was a scoring opportunity, UW goaltenders Joel Rumpel and Landon Peterson stepped up and did what they needed to do.

I spoke about it this week, but with a team that's not scoring many goals, you don't have a large margin for error. Wisconsin's defensemen and goaltenders played as good as I've seen them as a cohesive unit last weekend, and you can't help but be happy with the results the team has showed since new assistant Matt Walsh has been brought on board.

At this point it's hard to believe we won't see both goaltenders this weekend with how both of them are currently playing.

HUSKY OFFENSE

Michigan Tech comes into the series ranked 20th in the country in scoring averaging three goals per game. Up front the Huskies are led by their top line of Blake Pietila, David Johnstone, and Tanner Kero. Pietila leads the team by a substantial amount in goals with eight, and is one of the few NHL Draft picks on the Tech roster (New Jersey).

A second line of freshmen Jujhar Khaira and Alex Petan paired with junior Ryan Furne gives the Huskies a legitimate top-six up front.

Milos Gordic hasn't had quite the impact this season as he did a few years ago when he registered 15 goals and 21 points, but he's always a threat when he's on the ice.

HUSKY DEFENSE & GOALTENDERS

Scoring hasn't been an issue for the Huskies this season. Stopping teams from scoring, however, has been an issue. Michigan Tech ranks 56th (out of 59) in scoring defense this season, as they're giving up 3.77 goals per game.

Part of the issue is a lack of depth in their d-core, but they've also struggled to replace departing senior goaltender Josh Robinson who was fantastic last season. So far Tech has split most of the reps between freshman Pheonix Copley and senior Kevin Genoe with neither one having much success. Copley carries a paltry .851 save percentage, while Genoe sits at .891%.

It's no secret that Wisconsin has struggled to score goals this season. If they can't find the back of the net this weekend, I'm not sure they ever will.

THREE KEYS TO SUCCESS VS MICHIGAN TECH

  1. Carry the momentum. As Eaves said this week, Wisconsin needs to play with the wind at their backs this weekend. That means that they need to continue to build upon the success that they've already created, and use that to create more success.
  2. Roll four lines. With the return of Zengerle and Kerdiles to the Wisconsin lineup, they finally have a little bit of depth for the first time in weeks. The UW offense was playing best when the kept their shifts short, rolled throughout the lineup, and created havoc all over the ice. Tech doesn't have the depth UW does, take advantage of it.
  3. Continue to throw anything and everything at the net. Wisconsin scored two goals last weekend on shots at the net that simply hit guys and managed to find the back of the net. Get pucks to the net, bury greasy goals, whatever you need to do to put points on the board at this point.

COVERAGE

Both games this weekend can be seen live on FS Wisconsin. Additionally, if you've got the sports package on whatever provider you use, the games can be seen nationally on Fox College Sports Pacific.

Both games will be tape delayed on the Wisconsin Channel at 10 PM.

As always the games can be found on the radio on the Badger Sports Network and WIBA 1310.

POLLS

Neither Wisconsin, nor Michigan Tech are ranked this week.

INJURIES

Junior center Mark Zengerle will return from his finger injury this week. Freshman wing Morgan Zulinick is still out (thigh).

LAST MEETING

Wisconsin was swept last year in Houghton at the hands of Michigan Tech in back-to-back overtime games.

FUN FACT

Not really a 'fun fact' but for Saturday's game, Wisconsin's Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) will be running a "Toys for Tots" night, collecting new, unwrapped toys and monetary donations, with help from the U.S. Marines. Collection will take place at Gates A, B and C of the Kohl Center.

QUOTABLE

"From the coaching standpoint, it was the exact medicine we needed to get ourselves going in the right direction."--Eaves on what last weekends results in Denver do for this team.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Nic Kerdiles-Mark Zengerle-Tyler Barnes
Joseph LaBate-Derek Lee-Michael Mersch
Matt Paape-Brendan Woods-Keegan Meuer
Ryan Little-Jefferson Dahl-Sean Little

Jake McCabe-Frankie Simonelli
Kevin Schulze-John Ramage
Eddie Wittchow-Joe Faust

PREDICTION

Obviously Wisconsin has finally started to play up to its potential and will get another huge piece back this weekend in top-line center Mark Zengerle. I have the Badgers getting three points at home at the Kohl Center this weekend.

Friday: Wisconsin 3, Michigan Tech 2

Saturday: Wisconsin 3, Michigan Tech 3

For more Wisconsin hockey coverage, follow Andy on Twitter (@AndyJohnsonB5Q)

You can also reach Andy via e-mail (AndyJohnsonB5Q@gmail.com)

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